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Action Bob Markle

Music, theater, and my personal life, not always in that order. I try to keep it interesting, I rarely hold back, because one thing I truly believe in is the shared experience of this reality we call life. We're all in this together, people. More than we even know.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Play's Not A Play Until It's On Stage

Who said that? Wasn't it Tennessee Williams? That a play's not a play until somebody puts it up onstage. So, really, playwrights are scriptwriters, right? We write scripts, the blueprints to a play. Still, there is that funny little business about being play-wrights, and not play-writers. So maybe, just like for a shipwright a ship isn't something useful  until it's launched (what's more useless than a ship on land?) in that sense we're forging plays, but they're useful until they're on stage.

But the question is, how to get it from being a script to a play? That's where I stand now in my career as a playwright. We--I--write these things not to keep in a drawer, but for people to hear and see them. I've said it once, and I'll say it again, despite so many writers being of the quiet, introspective type, there is a certain arrogance associated with the act of writing. You are saying, I have something to say, and you better darn well listen.

I am entering a stage where I'm sending my plays out to theaters. Not flooding the market, but picking and choosing theaters whose work I admire and where I'd like to see my work produced. Or where it seems like there would be a good match.  And sure, I'm sending scripts to theaters that are putting out the word that they are looking for full-length and one-act plays whose work I don't know, but maybe I should know. They're saying they're looking, so they must be, right?

Still, all I keep hearing is the old model is broken, the one where playwrights send scripts to a theater and then the theater puts on the play. I don't want to address that issue right now. That's a whole nuther kettle of fish.

Right now, playwrights still have to send out scripts to theaters where they aren't known, where they don't have any relationship yet. (I was reading about Paula Vogel's career last night, and she and Molly Smith at the Arena Stage have a relationship that dates back a long way.) You have to start somewhere, and yes, I still believe that despite the obstacles that producers and artistic directors are facing today, I can't help but think that when they sit down and open an envelope there is this hope against hope that This Will Be The One.

I was just faced with sending a script out to two Very Big Deal theaters, and the question I grappled with was, What else do I put in the box besides a script? Neither theater asked for anything except a script formatted a particular way. One said a short bio could be included, but it wasn't necessary. One theater I saw (not one of the two where I just sent scripts) said send them a script and anything else we can think of that might entice them to look at my work. I think back on all the job application letters I've written over the years, trying all sorts of ploys to break through the clutter--funny, serious, straight, clever, coy--and I'm not sure what worked on any given day. In the past, some, but not all, of the best jobs I had were ones from people I already knew, or through relationships I had from making appointment after appointment with different creative people throughout Boston. I think that holds true with getting plays produced, too. But as I said, not all the time. The Provincetown Theater produced one of my plays--produced it marvelously, I might add--and no one knew me there.

This time, I questioned whether I should include a bio, but in the end, I included a short, short letter with one sentence telling them I am currently a graduate student at Boston University, and thought to myself, in the end, it's the play that's going to have to stand on its own, so let's see if it's as good as I think it is. In lieu of the theater knowing me or my work, this is all I've got right now.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous CT said...

I think it was Arthur Miller who made that statement. But frankly, it could be any of the heavyweights.

The traditional (broken?) submission model has bugged me ever since I overhead the story about how David Henry Wang (I think) basically pulled a production pledge out of Robert Brustein based on a conversation the two had while sitting next to one another on a flight from New York to Massachusetts.

That kind of happenstance is a dream made real for the writer who’s lucky enough to have that happen to them. But it breaks my heart. As it might break the hearts of the countless men and women who immerse themselves in all the grubby mechanics of paying for postage, standing in the post office, et.al.

Of course if you love what you’ve written, you love it enough to embrace the process. But still.

I wonder if producers have embraced a digital submission model. Is this happening already? How incredible would it be if the major houses allowed writers to upload their finished drafts, aping the present-day resume submission slash engagement model?

Regardless, good luck. Or, more aptly, break a leg!

August 3, 2011 at 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Action Bob said...

a lot of theaters not only have embraced the digital submission, but actually insist on it...the two plays i sent out yesterday cost me ten dollars combined...i'm reminded that when sam shepard heard he won the pulitzer for buried child, he was also complaining to his agent that he didn't have enough money to copy his plays--he was that broke...

August 3, 2011 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Lediana Paja said...

I think it will take more and more time when the plays will be put on stage. I know it is hard specially here in America (cause in Europe things works differently, and all they care about is what you have written). I was shocked how many paywriter are in America (around 10 000). I don't think that all the companies that produce the plays do have enough time to look all the submission. Or in the contrary, that's only a fallacy process.

Wish you luck John,

Lediana

August 4, 2011 at 12:13 AM  
Anonymous Action Bob said...

hi ledi...i think the sheer size of the united states can be a deterrent...i mean, how are you supposed to build a relationship with an artistic director 3,000 miles away?...twitter?...facebook?...when all those 10,000 other playwrights you mentioned are doing the same thing?...social networking is just the top layer...i'm guessing i'll just start small and follow my nose and see where it leads...

good luck to you, too...

August 4, 2011 at 6:20 AM  
Anonymous Action Bob said...

hi ledi...i think the sheer size of the united states can be a deterrent...i mean, how are you supposed to build a relationship with an artistic director 3,000 miles away?...twitter?...facebook?...when all those 10,000 other playwrights you mentioned are doing the same thing?...social networking is just the top layer...i'm guessing i'll just start small and follow my nose and see where it leads...

good luck to you, too...

August 4, 2011 at 6:20 AM  

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